Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Future is Now

On a flight to the east coast a few months ago, I became the person I hate: I talked nonstop to the stranger in the seat next to me. I was on my way to a conference and typing away at the paper I was finishing at the last minute, and the man next to me asked me about my topic. And, well, if you're anything like me, you know how easy it is to start talking about your work with the exuberant enthusiasm of the Comic Book Guy at a Star Trek convention. I was writing about postmodernism and dystopian young adult fiction, and my description of dystopias led to a long conversation about science fiction in general. My seat neighbor, Frank, eloquently explained his own fascination with sci-fi:
"Our technology has grown exponentially since the Industrial Revolution, making strides faster than any other era in history. If we can go from giant computers to handheld computers in just 50 years, imagine what will happen in the next 50. Doesn't that intrigue you?"

Yes, Frank. Yes, it does.

And while we all know that innovators are frequently churning out new ways to use technology, there are a few inventions that stand out for their, well, creepy sci-fi factor. And when I read about one of these things on the internet, inevitably someone in the comments section remarks that "this is like something out of a dystopian novel!"

Here are four of the weirdest and most dystopian-esque inventions/scenarios I've come across and the YA books that, in my mind, correspond with them. Care to add to the list?

1. Internet glasses: The prototype for Google's "Smart Glasses" was unveiled last year, but the Economist recently highlighted them as something that could become more mainstream in 2013. And yeah! They're going to look as good on you as they do on the model. Promise.

YA Correlation: In Veronica Rossi's Under the Never Sky, characters live in domes, protected from the noxious environment outside. They spend their days hanging out in the "realms," a virtual reality universe that they access through their SmartEye -- a flexible and fleshly spectacle permanently attached to one eye.

2. The anti-feeding tube: called this a "terrifying bulimia machine," and tongue-in-cheek epithet aside, this invention is indeed quite unsettling. Called the AspireAssist Aspiration Therapy System (that name alone -- come on! Euphemism, much?), this contraption is essentially a reverse-feeding tube, as it is inserted into one's stomach via a "skin flap," wherein it sucks out undigested food. Eat what you want and slim down! Just remember that you'll have a permanent skin flap, not unlike these poor cows.

YA Correlation: Not a direct correlation, but consider this scene in Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire: the rich residents of the luxurious and futuristic Capital attend parties where they gorge on delicious food, then drink a concoction that makes them throw up so they can continue to gorge.

3. Flawless plastic surgery: Apparently in South Korea it is not unusual for young people to get plastic surgery to drastically alter their appearance. Surgical procedures include eyelid surgery and jaw chiseling. This American Life did a story on it, and this Tumblr features before and after pictures.

YA Correlation: Scott Westerfield's Uglies envisions a dystopian future in which everyone gets a surgery that makes them conventionally beautiful at age 16. The downside? They get lobotomized, too. Yikes.

4. Fake meat: Is there anyone who didn't say "Eeeewwwwww" when they first heard about petri-dish hamburger? Using stem cells to grow beef in a lab is just...well, it's straight out of a science fiction novel, is what it is.

YA Correlation: In M.T. Anderson's Feed, the main characters spend a day in "the country," which is a meat farm of genetically engineered beef. So romantic! 

Bonus: I would be remiss if I didn't mention cyborgs. This is good one, with an altruistic purpose, too. It is complex and intricate, and it's mind-blowing to consider the time, skill, and effort scientists and engineers put into creating it. it walk on the treadmill. And then imagine it chasing after you because in the future your currently unborn son will helm an uprising against its dominance. That's why it's on a treadmill, you know. To practice.

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